How to Go From Side Hustle to Full-Time Freelancer in the Gig Economy

I can’t stand the word “hustle.” It gives me visions of a bloodshot-eyed, head-in-hands freelancer barely holding onto their dream of building an empire. Why do we see “hustling” as a good thing? Is becoming burnt out and exhausted the way of the future?

Well, yes and no. It depends.

When hustling becomes a label, you’re in trouble. Because hustling can’t be your forever. It has to end at some point. When hustling is a temporary progression, though (a period in life where you give everything you have to get everything you want) it can become a beautiful, life changing word.

If you’re currently working a regular 9 to 5 job and hustling on the side (i.e. picking up gigs on Upwork or online job boards), at a certain point, you need to shift into freelancing full time.

Once you do, you’ll no longer be a hustler. You’ll be the CEO of your own freelance business, and that means forgetting the struggle of building your dream on the side, and starting to focus on it full time.

The question, of course, is how to get there.

Change the way you communicate

It sounds simple, but if there’s one thing that’ll take you from struggling to succeeding, it’s knowing how to communicate with clients. From that first “feeler” message you send out, to the closing of a project, the way you speak to your clients has the potential to make or break your entire freelance career.

Throughout high school and college, you’ve been taught to highlight your education, internships and past employment when searching for jobs in the traditional working world. 

Take a look at the last few cover letters and resumes you sent out. How many times did you use the word, “I?” How often did you talk about yourself, and how little did you talk about the company you were applying to?

You might think the whole point of applying to a job is to tell the hiring manager about yourself.

In today’s world, though (and when you’re trying to build a full time freelancing business) it isn’t about you. It’s about the client. And to be completely blunt, the client doesn’t care about you; they care about finding a solution to their problem.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Harvard grad who has worked alongside Bill Gates at the age of 15. If you can’t solve a client’s problem, they’ll move on—even if it’s to the freelancer who never graduated high school, but knows exactly how to give them what they want.

Related: 10 Life-Changing Books Every Side Hustler Needs to Read in 2018

Focus on the client

You’re currently finding side gigs on Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer or one of the countless other job boards out there. Your work is sporadic, though. You’re constantly spending more time trying to find new clients than you are working for them. You find yourself cutting your rates to persuade clients to hire you, and it seems like leaving your 9 to 5 behind is slipping away, one side gig at a time.

There’s a good chance it’s because you’re not focusing on the client.

There are two things that’ll jumpstart your full-time freelance career:

  1. Making the right first impression
  2. Sending the right proposal

Both of those processes need to be “client-first,” through and through.

First impressions

A client’s first impression of you might be based off your initial contact with them, or your freelancer profile on the “gig site” you’re using. Regardless, that impression needs to leave the client feeling like you understand them.

Instead of:

“I studied marketing at Tech College, graduated with a 4.0 and have five years of experience working for a large corporation’s marketing department. I think I have the perfect skill set to complete this project for you.”

Try this:

“It sounds like you’re struggling to gain traction with your new product, which can be really frustrating. From what you’ve said, you’re currently marketing your brand through social media posts. Have you considered running ads? A similar client of mine was in your exact same position, relying solely on social media, and they boosted their annual revenue by 10 percent after using paid ads.”

It wouldn’t matter if you’d never attended a day of school in your life. If you sent the second message, that prospective client would listen.

Instead of talking about yourself, you’d be talking about them, and that’s what they want to hear.

Sending proposals

Sending an official proposal should be the exact same; don’t focus on yourself or what you can do, focus on what the client needs and wants.

Remember, you’re the exact same as any other freelancer in the world—until you start thinking more about how to solve a client’s problem, and less about how to make more money. A great way to ensure you send the right proposal is to do a little math while you’re putting it together.

Go through your entire proposal and add up two numbers:

  1. The number of times you use the word “I”
  2. The number of times you use the word “you”

If the former is higher than the latter, you still have work to do.

It shouldn’t be: I can help you bring more traffic to your website.

It should be: This new strategy could help you increase your website traffic by 10 percent.

It shouldn’t be: I have the perfect set of skills to handle this project.

It should be: You need someone who has experience consistently marketing new products with a positive return on investment.

It shouldn’t be: I’ll charge a total of $1,500 to put together a new marketing campaign.

It should be: Your investment of $1,500 has the potential to increase your annual revenue by $20,000.

Do you see the difference?

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Turning a side gig into full-time work

Your transition into full-time work won’t happen overnight. As you implement these changes, though, you’ll start to see three things happen:

  1. Your time spent “pitching” and reeling clients in will decrease
  2. Existing clients will return to you for more work in the future
  3. You’ll be seen as an expert and thought leader, not “just another freelancer”

Spending less time running after clients and one-off gigs means you’ll have more time to add extreme value to your projects, making existing clients even happier. The better you communicate with those existing clients, the more likely they are to return for more work, again and again. Being seen as the authority in your niche means those clients will happily pay more for your services rather than turning to the next, cheaper freelancer.

With each of those points at work, saying goodbye to your 9 to 5 won’t be such a distant dream after all. Instead, you’ll be leaving your side hustle mindset behind and focusing on becoming the CEO of a steadily growing freelance business—full time.

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